#DontRetireKid, Civic Park is Coming Soon!

This month, Project Play launched the “Don’t Retire Kid” campaign. Early advertisements for the campaign include two commercials featuring young athletes announcing their “retirement” from sports. The ads may begin humorously but they quickly highlight the feelings of burnout many children experience in today’s youth sports programs. The campaign aims to raise awareness around keeping children in youth sports and supporting them in pursuing active lifestyles.

Children in the U.S. are dropping out of sports at an alarming rate. From 2008-2013, approximately 2.6 million children stopped playing sports altogether. To combat this trend, The Aspen Institute launched Project Play. The initiative began by researching specific factors affecting children’s participation. They found that the autonomy a child has when playing video games, (i.e how/when/what they play, making friends, participating in competitions, experimenting with new strategies, etc.) is reflective of the experience children look for in youth sports.

This conclusion lies in stark contrast to the reality of many youth sports programs as more leagues and teams shift to highly competitive, costly, and exclusive systems. Today, increasingly adult-led competitions and tryouts for multi-season or travel teams can start as early as age 6. The disparity between the competitive nature of many youth sports teams and children’s own expectations for their sports experience has caused a dramatic decline in the number of children playing sports.

Another factor in the decrease in youth sports participation is the exclusionary model some teams and leagues adopt. While often unintentional, the high level of competition, financial cost, and time commitment for many teams exclude children who are disabled, late bloomers, obese/overweight, or from low-income families.

Bev Smith and Project Play Executive Director Tom Farrey at the 2017 Aspen Institute Project Play Summit.

At the 2015 Project Play Summit, the Aspen Institute released Sport for All I Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game. The reports detail eight strategies or “plays” for increasing participation in youth sports. Since then, over 100 organizations have used the report to improve their programs and participation rates.

Executive Director of Kidsports, Bev Smith believes the eight plays outlined in the Project Play playbook are key to helping all kids be active and enjoy sports and recreation. Kidsports strives to implement these strategies into their current programs. “Project Play’s involvement with national organizations is an important step to gaining traction with this issue” said Smith. At Civic Park, Kidsports will continue their programs which currently meet six of the eight goals set forth in the Project Play playbook. These include:

  • Encourage Sport Sampling (Play 3): Many children often feel burnout or can experience injury when playing a single sport year-round. At Civic, the space will provide an opportunity for youth to choose from all the sports Kidsports has to offer as well as sample lesser-known sports through clinics and camps.
  • Revitalize in-town leagues (Play 4): With the lack of field and court space in Eugene, local teams experience difficulty finding places to play. Civic Park will help alleviate this shortage and increase access to play spaces for local leagues.
  • Think Small (Play 5): Many huge sports facilities can be a daunting place for youth to play in. With that in mind, the space at Civic Park will be able to transform and accommodate youth-sized competition. The indoor sport courts and outdoor turf field can be configured into smaller, youth-sized playing areas that allow children to practice and play on an age-appropriate scale.
  • Design for Development (Play 6): Often sports programs don’t focus on a child’s overall athletic development. Programs offered by Kidsports are based around a concept called “physical literacy,” focusing less on competition and more on sampling lots of sports, learning fundamental movement skills, making friends, and most of all having fun!
  • Train All Coaches (Play 7): Kidsports coaches are all trained in the Positive Coaching Alliance’s “double goal” coaching method. This program teaches coaches how to help young athletes develop positive character traits such as teamwork, respect, and confidence, in addition to learning sport-specific skills.
  • Emphasize Prevention (Play 8): Kidsports coaches are trained in methods for promoting young athletes’ health and safety. Kidsports also promotes sports sampling which has shown to help prevent overuse injuries that occur when children focus on a single sport.

As construction continues on Civic Park, we’re excited for the opportunities it creates to address the decline in youth sports participation in our community. Programs and events at Civic will adopt many of the eight plays recommended by Project Play and promote healthy, active lifestyles for all local youth.